The Spiritual Path In The Modern Era
There is some indication now that we are moving into a post-secular age, where the notion of a spiritual path may become more attractive again. In recent years I have noticed how the word ‘spiritual’ has tended to upset people, as if to say the word aloud is an admission of madness. At the same time within spiritual circles, the word can feel very wooly at times, conveying only a vague sense of the mysterious and ineffable without being at all specific. What do people mean when they say they are spiritual? And what does it mean to have a spiritual life?
Spirit refers to everything in existence that is not tangible, which is to say - that which we do not perceive with the five senses. In an atheistic and materialist paradigm the word spiritual is archaic and irrelevant; there is nothing but material existence and to think otherwise is to be primitive or irrational. I am however not a materialist or an atheist, I need much more meaning in my life than such an empty paradigm can provide, and I'm not a Darwinist either, enmeshed in the assumption that human beings are always more superior than their predecessors - different perhaps but not necessarily better.
Archaeological thinkers are of the opinion that the human skull has not changed very much in the last 200,000-300,000 years, implying that our brains are much the same as they were in prehistoric times - that is to say before written history. The concept of evolution must therefore be much more nuanced or complex than pop culture science imagines; early cultures were not necessarily less advanced than ours, although more than likely our ancestors had a different way of seeing the world than we do today.
So much of the knowledge and wisdom handed down through the ages is embedded within the concept of spirit and soul, the notion of a higher power and a natural ordering principle, examples of which can be found in the Vedas of India, ancient Greek philosophy, Taoist philosophy, and indigenous wisdom, such that it is hard to simply write it all off as gibberish backed up by the notion that we are more advanced than we were and now know better.
I myself am comfortable with the spiritual side of human nature, and view it as a fundamental component of the human experience, vital to overall psychological health and wellbeing.
There are signs of an imminent shift though, for example these days heterodox conversations teeter on the edge of the spiritual, where participants go so far as to say such and such an experience was “almost spiritual” - but lacking in the courage to go all the way, lest they be tarred with the ‘woo woo’ label and not taken seriously.
And yet previously more secular minded people, drawn to psychedelics, are re-emerging with ‘spiritually active eyes’ after experiencing a plant-medicine ‘red pill’ moment from which they cannot go back. For example Graham Hancock’s Ayahuasca story that was banned by TED Talks some eight years ago, highlighting the clash between spirituality and the priests of Scientism (those that believe in science much like a religion). Hancock himself was spiritually catalysed by his Ayahuasca experience. His TED talk is worth watching.
The clash between genuine inquiry into the human experience and science dogma was highlighted further by Rupert Sheldrake in his banned TED talk entitled ‘The Science Delusion’ also some eight years ago. In this talk Sheldrake draws attention to Scientism as a dogmatic and controlling system, which believes that it already understands the nature of reality. His TED talk is also worth watching.
Scientism makes a number of dogmatic assumptions such as: nature is mechanical, matter is unconscious, the mind is nothing but the brain, mechanistic medicine is the only thing that works, the laws of nature are fixed etc. Eight years on, the clash still remains strong, as Sheldrake appears in a recent interview with UnHerd entitled “Science does not tolerate dissent”. What makes Sheldrake’s position all the more interesting is his position as a credentialed biologist, who spent his early life as an atheist science-materialist, who then later became spiritually activated through psychedelics and meditation to eventually choose a Christian spiritual path (he talks about this in his recent Unherd interview)
The dominance of science materialism is one of the main drivers that has pushed spirituality into the shadows, forcing many to simply keep their spiritual lives to themselves. My sense is that circa 1990, soon after the harmonic convergence in 1987 (a global spiritual event), there began a quantum pre-wave (as mapped by the Mayan Calendar) leading up to the activation of the galactic 8th wave in 1999 (activating the right brain), and a great many people were, like myself, spiritually activated, and since then many more. The topic of the Mayan quantum wave system and its relevance to the current times, I cover in another article here.
When I transitioned into adult life, I was fortunate to have a spiritual awakening
on my own terms away from the prying eyes of judging atheists. Even so the predominantly secular culture I was immersed in during the 1990s, meant that a large part of my life was off limits to most people, while I met and exchanged ideas within a small network of like-minded friends. Cultivating a spiritual life outside of religion has certainly been possible only on the fringes of society.
So why has spirituality become so unfashionable and taboo?
A common issue for many is the conflation of the idea of spirituality with religion, when they are quite different things. Religion for many is perceived as a source of control, rejection and pain, and evokes a strong push-back reaction.
So lets just tease apart these two concepts in order to avoid any further confusion:
Religion has a lot to do with an evolving set of structures that give rise to embodied practices that enable communities to function well and endure. Religion is made of the rituals that hold our communities together. Religion provides a structure through which individuals relate to other individuals, then form into groups and communities, which in turn are able to enter into relationships with the world at large, in ways that allow them to adapt and thrive.
Spirituality is a much more personal experience, and can simply refer to everything about your life that exists beyond 5 sense reality; the world behind closed eyes populated by your thoughts, feelings, visions, imaginings and emotions. Spiritual practices are generally psycho-technologies which help us to achieve congruence with the Self and are thus intrinsically connected to the individuation journey.
Religions provide a collective narrative and set of values through which whole communities can come together in a coherent manner, which in Christianity centres around the story of Jeshua ben Joseph, in Buddhism centres around the story of Siddhartha Gautama, and in Islam the story of Muhammed Ibn Abdullah. In earlier polytheism, there were multiple stories co-existing together. In modernity the stories centre around science materialism underpinned by atheism, and capitalism as the veneration of money as a means to power and freedom, where scientists, lab technicians, stock brokers and bankers take a similar role to theologians, priests and clergyman.
Much of the chaos in our current times is due to cultural atomisation, amplified by social media and the internet, which allows all of us to build a unique view of reality, free from the constraints of conformity pressures from those we live with, close to, or share the local environment with. In short we no longer share the same stories and have less and less in common. In addition our secular religious practices such as birthday celebrations, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year, are no longer providing enough community cohesion, while others such as ritual football matches and music festivals have become compromised by corporate interests and they too have lost their capacity to hold a semblance of the sacred.
Although there are those returning to or migrating to Christianity, Buddhism or Islam as a means to satisfy a hunger for a spiritual life, I think it very likely that collective humanity is in the early stages of birthing a new level of religion as never been seen before, tailored to our postmodern way of thinking and yet demanding of us a quantum leap to an entirely new way of relating to the world. To help you understand this progression, Ken Wilber's Integral Theory has something to offer.
The Altitudes of Development model proposes an evolutionary map for human development, with each lower level providing the foundation for higher ones. For example those of us operating in postmodern green, are also able to access lower levels of human orientation, and this is healthy. Collectively the frontier of human consciousness is at postmodern green (mostly in the West), with older generations tending toward modernist orange. Ukrainian development coach Vytas Bucianas positions Russia as largely operating with a combination of a very unhealthy, cynical orange (modernism) - i.e a kleptocratic regime all about money, wealth and power and a strong red warrior essence, based on power and domination.
I myself started out in postmodern green in my teenage years (an outsider relative to 1980s values), and then through a spiritual awakening shifted into an integral teal perspective in my early 20s, and have since moved again into integral turquoise, as I believe many others have also done in recent years. My sense is that any emergent new religious paradigm will occur at either Tier 2 or Tier 3 or even both.
Since at least the 1960s, Westerners hungering for spiritual connection have sought it in the East, as evidenced by pioneers such as Ram Dass who having spent years in spiritual study in India, returned to the USA to disseminate his spiritual vision in a palatable and understandable way that catalysed thousands of people. Even today, many western secular materialists, find themselves drawn to yoga schools, meditation classes, Qigong ,Tai chi and mindfulness, all of which have their roots in Eastern wisdom traditions.
The meme of a mountain-top lotus position at sun rise is a ubiquitous symbol of modern spirituality, and yet yoga has been limited in the minds of most, to a system of mere stretching and positional exercises promoting health and fitness, rather than its true position as a collection of philosophies and teachings that promote an active relationship with universal spirit. As a yoga practitioner once said to me, “the whole point of achieving a lotus position, is simply because it is a very comfortable position in which to commune with the Divine”. That is to say, it is useful but not essential.
What we don’t often hear about are the western spiritual traditions, as separate from religions such as Christianity. This is one reason why so many look to the East for inspiration, because if you don’t get along with the Jesus story, and a rather limited and entrenched view of the higher-power as God the Almighty - an image of divinity with Judaic roots portrayed as a severe judging and punishing patriarch, then where in the western tradition do you go?
The reason for this is that the western spiritual traditions are either occulted (hidden), and thus subject to taboo, or are rooted in more ancient tribal cultures we know little about, and clumped together under the dubious term ‘pagan’, which comes from the latin word paganus, meaning rustic villager, intended as a derogatory word used by early Christians to describe someone following the older polytheistic ways, much like we use the word ‘hick’ .
And yet the search for a spiritual life hasn’t died out altogether, but like most things rejected by society, has gone relatively unhindered in a quiet way behind the scenes. One only has to observe the evolution of the London Mind Body Spirit Festival, which began in 1977 at the Olympia Exhibition Centre, and currently attracts tens of thousands of visitors. It has subsequently been presented in New York, Los Angeles, Cork, San Francisco, Sydney and Melbourne, and 42 years on, the festival now incorporates The London Wellbeing Festival in May and the Birmingham Wellbeing Festival in November every year.
Another indicator for a collective re-emergence of the spiritual is the western response to Indian Hindu spiritual leader and humanitarian Mata Amritanandamayi otherwise known as Mother Amma, who attracts thousands of people to see her on her tours of Europe and North America.
Although often scoffed at and criticised, the New Age Movement coalescing in the 1970s, has been a major contributor to the re-emergence of spirituality in western culture, although it has been hijacked to some extent by capitalist interests along the way. The New Age can best be described as a radical ecumenical culture of therapeutic spirituality; an evolving milieu of spiritual practises and explorations, much like an alchemical cauldron, integrating metaphysical ideas and philosophies from many traditions. Originally drawing from Western Occultism, including tributaries such as Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Astrology, Tarot and Occult Magic, the movement has since integrated Eastern philosophies such as Taoism, Buddhism, Vedic philosophy as Yoga, as well as Hellenistic Gnosticism, Indigenous wisdom, Kabbalah, and elements from Zoroastrianism, Jung and more.
In turn this has led others to focus on specific spiritual paths and traditions, for example rune magic and ritual, rebooted from remnants of the old ways left to us in historic poetry, known in Old Norse as eddas, giving rise to Ásatrú literally meaning faith in the Aesir, best defined as a reemergence of the native expressions of belief of the Indigenous European peoples.
Swiss composer Adrian von Ziegler writes music of the kind suited to the fantasy genre; epic and cinematic, his you tube channel has over 1 million subscribers, perhaps indicative of an emerging hunger for the mystical and archetypal. Drawing strongly from images resonant with early Indigenous European peoples, some of his fan base will no doubt be in the midst of their own personal spiritual explorations.
In addition there are various threads of occult magical practises permeating into social groups such as Neo Paganism and Wicca, as well as individually, and more recently renewed interest in shamanism often in conjunction with psychedelic plants.
Modern Ayuhuasca Journeys act as a bridge to an active spiritual life for secular people
Artist and songster Marya Stark, with obvious roots in Wicca, describes herself as a carrier of myth, magic, and medicine songs. She serves as a good indicator of a revival in spirituality now emerging out of the existential vacuum of science materialism, into the music sector.
I observe all of this from the perspective of collective evolution in connection with shifts in the cosmic cycles affecting consciousness. We appear to be working collectively toward a new synthesis, and perhaps a new form of religiosity suited to an emerging Aquarian Age coded for universal equity and humanitarianism.
Often overlooked is the fact that the practise of astrology is itself a spiritual path, and not simply a divination tool, for through astrology or its sibling system Tarot, we can access a rich underlay of metaphysical knowledge and wisdom.
A spiritual path is built of values, philosophies and metaphysical knowledge that enable us to cultivate a cooperative relationship with the cosmos in a way that brings us into congruence with natural law, in order that we can optimise our inherent potential and bring it to full expression in our daily lives.
In a better future we can expect to see personal spiritual practices at the heart of education, a new adaptive religious culture with a new story or set of stories tailored to inspire future generations to reach their true potential, and one that encourages social coherence through mutual adherence to natural evolving metaphysical laws, with cultural ritual practises and festivals that promote universal connection and alignment.
The New Age has in my opinion been largely successful in providing a way in for anyone seeking spiritual answers, without the restriction of a religious system. Even the monetisation of the movement has amplified the signal, enabling a vast array of books, courses and presentations on all manner of spiritual subjects to become widely available. On the downside this has also meant a watering down of information in some cases, with a great many books being mostly derivative and weak emulations of other books and teachings that are worth their salt. It has also enabled seekers to cherry pick from numerous spiritual systems, usually the most attractive and comfortable aspects, and formulate an unbalanced and incomplete spiritual approach often devoid of any shadow work.
This is to be expected however, and is part of the path itself, due to the tremendous loss of spiritual wisdom during the recent Kali yuga, during which time the great library of Alexandria in Egypt was burnt to the ground, many gnostic texts were burnt by the Catholic Church, the early Mayan and Incan knowledge systematically removed or destroyed by Catholic priests in the 16th century, and around the same time in Europe, many thousands of truth-bearers burnt at the stake for witchcraft, ongoing into the 18th century. We literally had very few elders left alive keeping any true wisdom, with their legacy encoded in occulted form through Tarot, art, astrology, medieval alchemy and secret books, which have slowly percolated back into the public domain largely through the New Age environment.
Generally speaking most of us have the responsibility to craft our own spiritual path during this era of transition, as part of the transition itself, out of which a new collective spiritual vision can eventually emerge. This means we have to explore numerous methods, techniques, and modalities along the way in order to build a spiritual life that works for us as individuals. In this it is worth bearing in mind the way that past life dynamics influence what does and does not resonate for each of us. For example if a person has had past lives involving positive experiences of Christianity, then in this life they will probably find elements of Christianity attractive and of relevance to their spiritual path. If on the other hand they experienced persecution from Christianity, and carry trauma in connection with this, then more than likely they will find anything to do with Christianity repelling. In the same way if we feel more comfortable with a vegetarian diet, then there is a good chance that recent past lives took place in vegetarian cultures such as India or within spiritual community enclaves.
Our astrological archetypes also influence the types of things we are going to resonate with most. Before reading the list below bear in mind that your sun sign (birth sign) is just part of a complex tapestry of archetypes within your natal chart.
Aires: prefers systems that focus on the individual self, or those that are innovative and lead to self-discovery.
Taurus: prefers systems that are practical, grounded and tangible - preferring systems that are self-reliant and based on solid values.
Gemini: prefers teachings written down in books, and likes a more scientific approach.
Cancer: enjoys community based spirituality, with emotional connections, caring and sensitivity.
Leo: prefers systems aimed at self-realisation, and will want their spiritual connection to be their own, expressed in a unique way.
Virgo: will be drawn to spiritual practices which are methodical or ritualistic, as well as those with a therapeutic orientation or those based in purity, such as detox diets and fasting.
Libra: prefers systems that are equitable, social, and based on the principle of balance and harmony.
Scorpio: prefers systems that are transformative, empowering, cathartic and intense, and is drawn to teachings that unveil reality.
Sagittarius: will be more drawn to ascension based systems, which lead to ecstatic states, and those with a strong philosophical or metaphysical base.
Capricorn: will gravitate to spiritual systems that are already established, have social kudos, and require discipline and time to study.
Aquarius: prefers heterodox teachings, and systems aimed at liberation and insight.
Pisces: will resonate with channelled material and psychic experiences, Taoist philosophy, spiritualism and ascension based teachings.
How do we craft a balanced spiritual life?
We can turn to the model of the four elements to help us make sure we are not missing key spiritual practises. The four elements of Earth, Water, Fire and Air are symbolic representatives of the four prime areas we should consider in terms of overall psychic health.
Very simply put: Earth (North/Green) correlates to embodied and manifest forms, Water (West/Blue) correlates to emotional and psychic aspects, Fire (South/Red) correlates to intuitive transcendent aspects, and Air (East/Yellow) correlates to mental, psychological elements. (note: there are other versions of this system with slightly different symbol assignments)
In essence we should ensure that our spiritual path includes psycho-technologies from all four sectors to encourage a balanced system.
EAST: attributed to the symbol of AIR, relates to practices such as meditation, self-reflection, psychotherapy, study, mindfulness and breath-work.
SOUTH: attributed to FIRE, relates to practices such as psychedelics aimed at transcendence, contemplation, ecstatic dance, astrology, pilgrimage to sacred sites, mantra, fasting and prayer.
WEST: attributed to WATER, relates to practices such as re-birthing, emotional processing, Tarot, Shadow-work, deep healing processes, awareness of ones inner-world, archetypal journeys, Divination, dream-work and channelling.
NORTH: attributed to EARTH, relates to embodied practices such as yoga asana, Tai chi, Qigong, grounding techniques, appreciation, dietary awareness and good practice, and physical wellbeing.
*note: these are just a few suggestions, and there are many other options within each elemental sector.
How we move with the elements is different for everyone, but in the long term we should consider integrating some practices from each element. As we evolve, grow and mature however, we may find that whole periods of time are dedicated to one particular element at a time, because we all awaken from a unique position and the path unfolds for each of us in a different way but always toward greater balance.
As with all systems, it is useful to remember that they are not absolute, and will have limitations. In this sense using the four elements is just a way we can appraise how we are going about things and bring awareness to our own personal development to make changes if necessary.
Graham Hancock's proposal that we are in the midst of a war on consciousness, as relayed to him by indigenous shamans, is a poignant one. Is it imperative for our future survival that we all reclaim an active spiritual life? The idea of a war on consciousness correlates well with the notion of a False Matrix which I talk about in an earlier post here, which dovetails with Rudolf Steiner's suggestion that we are emerging out of an era dominated by the dark archetype of Ahriman, which peaked in the last decade or so. From Steiner's perspective larger periods of time are influenced by key archetypes, some associated with elevated states of consciousness and others with reduced awareness capacity. The era of Ahriman coincides with the Mayan 7th wave, which moved the world into a fundamental disconnect from spirit and a descent into science materialism. This era shouldn't be thought of as entirely bad, there have been specific evolutionary advantages gained, as evidenced by modern science and technology, but there were also temporary costs to the human experience. We have since been activated by both the 8th and 9th quantum waves mapped by the Mayan calendar system (1999 and 2011), which have altered the quantum field and are now bringing us collectively back into connection with the spiritual dimensions. I believe the tide is now turning, and this will go hand in hand with more and more people joining the wave of awakening, as they begin to rekindle a spiritual life and the subsequent reconnection with the Living Matrix.
Aquila Idha offers Tarot, Evolutionary Astrology and Self-realisation Mentoring sessions for those interested in understanding their unique spiritual path as it unfolds throughout life.